- Hardcover: 74 pages
- Publisher: Louisiana State Univ Pr (October 1, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0807122300
- ISBN-13: 978-0807122303
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,211,481 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Monarchs: A Poem Sequence Hardcover – October 1, 1997
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The Monarchs: Essay On Intelligence: Five
-- Table of Poems from Poem Finder®
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by Cate Gable
Alison Deming is one of great naturalist writers bridging the gap between science and the literary arts. Her poem sequence, The Monarchs, is exemplary of her ability to utilize a variety of techniques to speak her truths about life, the world we live in and her own interior “beingness.” The book has many threads, woven to create a tapestry that both delights and devastates.
One thread is her seven prose-like poems on intelligence, in which she illustrates the incredible and often missed or misconstrued logical powers of plovers, mice, male bower birds, female digger moths, or chimpanzees. Their creative problem solving is astounding: Icelandic mice construct a flotilla for transporting their winter supplies across rivers; the bower bird, an avian-Picasso, tinkers with minute aesthetic details to create his mating palace. These are contrasted with the seemingly superior powers of humans:
"To count the neural connections
in the human brain, one per second,
would take thirty-two million years."
However, as she goes on to say—
"How is it then that 'I' am one thing?"—
which I take to mean, “Have we lost our way?” Or, as she builds her case, since we are so brilliant, why do we not recognize and honor the companions who share with us their unique sensibilities and approaches to living on planet earth.
The larger frame for the poet’s conversation with herself and her material is held in the monarchs’ migration, over two or three generations, encompassing 2,500 miles. At the same time, their threatened habitat is a stand-in for the wreckage of a personal relationship she hints at.
Along the way Deming contrasts selected details from our man-made world: Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Wildlife Bar, the Crown Jewels, Ben Johnson’s chorography, the evolution of human language, Duartes’ oysters, the entrance pillars of Stanford University, and the botanic garden in Tilden Park (Berkeley); with ferrous oxide, pheromones, and pupae, materials drawn from nature. In short, she creates a kaleidoscope of ruminations that seductively draws us in deeper to the devastation—how we are destroying this astounding natural world from which we arose.
As compatriot southwest writer and naturalist Gary Nabhan says of her work, “This is one of the truest fusions of ecological thought and precise evocative poetics to emerge in the history of American arts and letters. Our souls fly high in the form of these butterflies.” And yet—she slashes to the bone of her argument when she writes, “I have a hunger/ for the harmony I feed with dissent.”
We humans have inflicted grievous wounds on ourselves and other species. We have assumed that we were separate from and, therefore, had a right to exploit the resources of our world. In this powerful text, Deming wants to nudge us in the direction of an awareness of our hubris before it is too late.
Deming herself studies the human race in a similar way, approaching with compassion its mistakes and absurdities. While, on the one hand, the activities of people and the creatures of the natural world mirror one another, Deming's Nature sometimes chances by as a separate entity, transcending human struggles; like the Monarchs flying over the fearful townspeople in poem 4, Nature goes diligently about its business, oblivious to both our fear and fascination.
A refreshing honesty underlies Deming's poetry: she is unwilling to glorify the elements of humanity that are popularly glorified, such as common perceptions of love, which she boldly declares a result of "misunderstandings" in poem 16. She also refuses to attribute an unrealistic intelligence to the nobility of Nature; instead she laments, as in poem 24, the intellect that often spoils human living:
Unlike animals that respond
more impulsively to a stimulus,
our continual adjustment of
internal to external relations
opens the way for postponing
action, deliberating, reflection -
a new quality of mind evolving,
which, quite naturally, feels
confused by its urgencies,
because the ancient part
wants to act and the newer part
insists on imagining action.
Deming is not a cynic however. While she periodically equates love with untruth, she acknowledges in poem 23 that "to love is all there is / to separate us from tyrants, from the dark." Moreover, her sporadic references to dreaming make a gracious allowance for human frailty. From the would-be rapist in poem 2 to the child in poem 8 trying to dig to China, the human race engages in moments of absurd dreaming. Our dreams make us as precious or pitiable as the Monarch babies of poem 9 that "awake in a little park / surrounded by ruined cities, / not a doubt in their minuscule / minds that blooming fields await them."
The Monarchs is a contemplative study of the human race and the natural world of which it is both apart and separate. Through thought provoking insights and colorful imagery, readers of this volume will agree that Deming has met her own challenge to "make a thing out of this chaos, a thing / that will last."